Cathy Cox has been President of GC for almost five months. She gave her Inaugural
State of the University Address in early February. On Feb. 16, Katie Futch, the News Editor for The Colonnade, sat down with Cox to discuss her presidency and plans for the university.
Futch: Can you talk to me about your experience in the first five months of being president of GC?
Cox: Well, it’s been a whirlwind. It’s been wonderful, truly wonderful. It’s been a little crazy coming in mid-semester. That’s not a customary time to start a new job in administration on the college campus. Typically, you would start at the beginning of the semester, or at least the beginning of an academic year. But COVID kind of upset the whole interview process for this job.
I didn’t interview until the fall semester was underway. I had already started teaching a class at Mercer Law School and was serving as dean. And then I was offered the job. I talked to them about waiting to start until January of 2022, but they wanted me to go ahead and give them a start date.
We agreed on a start date: Oct. 1. I launched and came in on a Friday and had to immediately leave campus to attend the President’s retreat for USG for the next two days, and then a Board of Regents meeting. So I was here one day and then gone.
There were so many things that I just had to hit the ground running with that made it a little bit different, and I guess awkward in some ways. I’m glad this was not my first president’s job because I probably would have been in a little more of a panic than I was.
But, I had such good people around me to help me and I had a great transition team that was already in place to organize my schedule. I had unbelievably fabulous help here, in the president’s office with my two assistants, Monica Starley, and Mary Beth Pennington, who just walk on water, and made everything so easy. But truly, the transition team helped me kind of look ahead at the first 100 days, and at what did I want to try and accomplish. I think all of that gave me a good springboard to do a lot more this semester.
Futch: I want to address something you mentioned in your Innagural State of the University Address about your listening tours. Can you tell me some of the things that you heard and maybe some of the changes that you’re planning on implementing?
Cox: Well, I think the first question I asked at every one of those listening sessions was, what are you most proud of? Because I wanted people to start talking about something they knew about, but something that they felt passionate about. I wanted to hear what they are proud of.
I heard faculty say, I’m so proud of what we do in our class, I’m so proud of our commitment to students. I’m so proud of what I see in my class, I’m so proud of what I hear my peers doing down the hall and talking to students.
All kinds of things that you heard from faculty, but it ran down to our custodial staff. They said, We’re so proud of the ability over the last two years of the pandemic to keep our campus safe and clean. And a place where people still could come and learn and feel safe, because we were the ones having to clean every surface and vacuum and do all these things that people don’t necessarily notice every day.
There’s a lot of pride in what people are doing here. And that was exciting for me, as president, to hear because I don’t have to worry about motivating people here. They’re very motivated to do good work.
I also asked people to look ahead. What are things that they think we could address and what things can we do better?
A lot of responses had to do with the facilities here on campus. We have some facility challenges, which is not surprising on a campus with a lot of historic buildings. Performing arts has some serious facility needs on this campus, from music to dance to all kinds of theater performances.
We don’t have any facilities that were built for their work. Russell Hall was built for lectures and speaking performances, but it was not built for theater. There’s not the appropriate kind of fly space for scene changes, there’s no backstage for the cast to come on and off a stage. It doesn’t have the right acoustical treatments for music, and so on.
We have facility needs that we’re going to have to tackle to help our programs rise to be as good as they have the potential to be.
You know, I don’t necessarily want to be the one who comes in and says, I think we should do this, this and this. I want the people with the expertise to say, how do we build on what we’re doing?
Futch: It sounds like you have a very busy agenda. Can you describe to me a day in the life of GC’s President?
Cox: Well, the good thing is that every day is different, which is what I love most about my job.
Last week, I had a board of regents meeting so I was out of town for a day. I could have other meetings, like the Foundation meeting the week before last. There was also an alumni board meeting that got me out of the office.
I’ve got some speeches that are coming up at local civic clubs in Sandersville. I also have the Local Exit Issues Breakfast at the Chamber in another month or so. So, there are things like that, where I’m going to do more getting out to talk about the university and what we hope to do and what we can do to serve the communities.
Then, there’s a big external piece. I want to get on the road to go visit our alumni and our significant donor and friend base, to get to know those people personally, and why they love this college and university. I haven’t been able to do much of that in the fall both because of the pandemic and because of scheduling. But I want to do that. So that will take me off campus a little bit more this spring and summer.
Futch: Whenever you are not working, what are some of your hobbies and interests? What might a GC student find you doing in your free time?
Cox: Well, the off-campus part is what has driven me crazy lately, because I didn’t get to move to Milledgeville until the week of Christmas. I commuted from Macon throughout the fall semester, because we had found a house here, but it was not ready to move into because we were having to redo floors. We are still living through the renovation mess here in February.
So every waking moment I’ve been out of this building has been spent working on our house or trying to get our Macon house cleaned out to sell, which we’re down to the wire on. I’ve been back in Macon most weekends, working on cleaning out the house here, stumbling over boxes there.
As for hobbies, my first degree is in agriculture, horticulture from ABAC. I love to work in my yard, and I love to garden. But that may be the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced here with all the deer that live around my house here. There seems to be a colossal herd every night that chomps on every shrub around, so I don’t know how much gardening I’m going to get to do here. So that will be interesting.